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Diver versus Deep Trekker: A Cost /Benefit Analysis

As underwater ROV technology continues to evolve and transform, industry professionals are faced with a simple question: diver or drone?

While the question may be simple, often the answer is not and depends on a multitude of factors such as the scope of a task, operating environment/conditions and project complexity to name a few. Ultimately everything boils down to two factors: safety and cost. All other factors, fall under or are measured by, the safety of the team and the all-mighty dollar.

Diver vs. Deep Trekker - Safety and Cost

Safety is, of course, our number one concern any time we’re out on or in the water. No operation is successful unless all members of the crew are safely working throughout the task. While water is essential for life, it is also a force of its own capable of harming someone in an instant. Thus, all phases of a project (from planning to completion) must consider all aspects to reduce risks as much as possible.

Search and Rescue Operations

We work with many first responders and search and rescue (S&R) clients. Often they’re deploying into extremely harsh bodies of water where water current, temperature, ice cover and limited access makes search and recovery efforts extremely difficult.

Traditionally S&R arrive on site and begin by surveying the area to find a safe area to deploy from. Then they set up command control and must decide whether or not circumstances permit a dive to take place. If they do, a diver then suits up and enters the water cautiously and carefully, operating with the aid of his dive team to ensure that they remain safe and able to perform the S&R duties. This whole process can take hours.


When using an ROV by comparison, the operator arrives on scene, finds an entry point or cuts a hole in the ice and begins operating. This can take place within minutes which is crucial during S&R operations. In this situation, we’re not replacing the need for the divers. Instead, the Deep Trekker allows first responders to begin sweeping the scene immediately and augments the efforts of divers, creating an effective team of man and machine. It can eliminate areas that don’t need to be dived in or pinpoint ones that do. In these challenging tactical recovery dive situations, the value of a Deep Trekker is immediately apparent. The speed with which it can deploy and the low risk to the operator makes it a virtual no-brainer.

How about the many other underwater operations? There are many operating environments where ice and rescuing a human life are not included in the project outline, what are the benefits of a Deep Trekker versus diver then?

General Commercial Diving Work

In other situations, commercial divers may be diving in areas that pose less risk than an S&R operation, but the use of underwater drones is still advantageous from a cost and safety perspective. It’s no secret that hired commercial divers are expensive. To train an in-house staff member, you can expect to pay upwards of $25,000 USD and that’s prior to equipment expenses and insurance bills which can run tens of thousands more. Hiring a diver runs between $1,500 - $5,000 USD per day for a small job and can cost significantly more depending on the complexity of the task being performed.

ROV Monitoring Salvage Diver at Hydro Dam. Demonstrates how ROVs can be a great way to monitor underwater construction.

ROV Monitoring Salvage Diver at Hydro Dam. Demonstrates how ROVs can be a great way to monitor underwater construction.

In addition to being expensive, commercial diving can also require a large team. Most jobs require a dive team consisting of a commercial diver, a standby diver and a diving supervisor who communicates with the diver in the water at the surface control point. As the scope of a job grows, so does the size and role of the team. In as few as two days, you can recuperate the cost of a Deep Trekker versus a commercial dive project.

Curious how quickly you'd recuperate your investment? We keep our pricing model open and transparent for anyone to see on our website. The specs of our high-quality, Canadian built Deep Trekkers are listed alongside prices as well as our wide variety of attachments.

This is not to say that ROVs will or should replace all commercial diving jobs. There will always be repairs and tasks that require the human expertise of a commercial diver. However, with the option of performing inspections with an ROV, you can save your highly trained divers to do what they do best, and leave the more simple inspection jobs for an ROV. This will reduce your diving costs and will also make projects for commercial divers safer and more straight forward. With an ROV completing pre-inspections, you can best determine how to use the bottoms times and monitor the diver for extra safety while they complete their work.

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Aquaculture Operations

Take our clients in the aquaculture industry for example, this is where the cost advantage of a Deep Trekker becomes undeniable. Operators can use it every day. On a farm, the difference between running a sustainable operation and one that can pose risks to the surrounding environments can depend on how often they inspect their farms; daily is recommended. They choose attachments like the laser scaler and mort retrieval system to monitor and perform preventative maintenance and ensure the integrity and cleanliness of their environments. The cost of a diver to perform these same daily tasks can be astronomical.


Additional Benefits

Not only can clients use their Deep Trekkers daily but they can also operate for longer when they have reached their operational depth. For scuba divers, nitrogen narcosis becomes a significant concern beyond 18m of depth and most see 30-40m as the limit for performing underwater tasks. For commercial divers, depths that are deeper than 45m require them to use trimix, a mixture of oxygen, helium and nitrogen to breathe and may require specialized suits to combat the ambient pressures and PSIs that act against the diver.

The deeper a diver descends, the less time they are able to spend at operational level and the longer the ascent due to the necessary safety stops to avoid decompression sickness.

A Deep Trekker ROV on the other hand, lasts for 4-8 hours on a single charge (1.5 hour to charge). This means hours of operational capability at shallow and deep depths. Because it is battery powered, you can take your Deep Trekker anywhere without requiring a power outlet or a bulky, loud and odor releasing generator. This is also what allows us to reduce the size of the tether (just 5mm in diameter since no power is running through the line) meaning less drag in the water, especially at deeper depths.

Deep Trekker ROVs will not replace a diver in all situations and in many, it augments the activities a diver is already undertaking. There are many incredibly talented men and women on whom the industry relies for their human touch and we’re very lucky we get to work with these professionals on a daily basis. Let’s also not forget that on the other end of a Deep Trekker is a human operator capturing, storing and interpreting the data collected.

Mike Fletcher, a professional commercial diver and renowned wreck diver, states that “there is always the risk of injury or threat to the person diving”. He explains that whenever there is the chance to use something other than a person to perform a task the risk of injury to the diver is eliminated.

Taking all of this into account, often a Deep Trekker ROV keeps divers out of harms' way and adds an extra level of safety. In many inspection jobs, it also provides a more time, cost and resource efficient solution to getting eyes underwater.

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